Letters and envelopes. Old but not Out

Published in PM Forum's journal - Autumn 2012


Letters and envelopes.  Old but not Out.

Sending a letter may seem dreadfully old fashioned in this modern digital world, but it can help in drumming up responses far more than you'd think.  This trip down memory lane may be just what the doctor ordered.

 A quick question to start you off....

Which is the most expensive way to send your direct marketing?

a) eMail
b) SMS text message
c) Letter
d) RSS feed

It’s probably safe to bet, dearly beloved reader, that 99.9% of you said c, by letter.

And you probably added an expletive to your answer for such a stupidly easy question and for even wasting your time in making you read it.

But did you include responses, leads, or standing out from the competitive noise, and ultimately that instruction in your assumptions?  And did you include the purchase and development costs of the SMS, RSS or eMail software?

Fear not, I'm not saying, move back to post.  I couldn't think of anything more stupid.

There are perfectly good reasons why digital marketing replaced stuffing envelopes and licking a stamp.  For instance, sending a letter doesn’t give you open, click, bounce and follow-through metrics, automated triggered responses and alerts, or split testing of subject lines or email content.  And if you are doing email, but aren’t doing auto triggers or split testing, you really aren't exploiting eMail's huge benefits.  But that's another article.

So, why are letters still valid?

They get your message noticed, that's why.

Well, an extreme example for you.

I was away for precisely 11 working days during the summer – on holiday with the better half and the two knee highs.  Everyone knows people go on holiday then.  But still, I came back to an inbox with 2,300 emails in it.  But sitting ON my desk were TWO envelopes.  Just two.  One got binned, the other read.  I'm not making it up that 50% of my post got read.  I have no idea when during my two weeks they arrived – there was certainly no inbox placement issues.  And I read those first as well.  Before you read on any further, just have a stab at guessing how much of my email inbox got read?

And these are the emails I usually read.  Most I subscribe to.

But, I sorted by sender, whizzed through them, and mass deleted.  Hardly anything got read properly.  Nothing really stood out and shouted 'READ ME'.  I even unsubscribed from a few.  Do you want that to happen to your communications?  eMail makes hitting 'delete' or 'unsubscribe' very easy, especially when you're in a bit of a hurry. But I still recall what was in that letter.

Still laughing at letters?

Have a think why you still choose to get the printed version of pm, when you could simply get the stories by email or on the website?

To add to this, a reminisce for you... If you are over 40 that is.

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Do you recall the 'gilt edged printed seminar invitations' from about 15 years ago?  Just imagine how much they'd stand out from today's bland communications.  Isn’t that the whole point of your marcomms?  To get your message to stand out from all the other noise?

* * * * * *

Close targeting of a segment of your CRM database is still the best way of getting the best results though.

Letters need not be as expensive as you'd think either.  Even with the recent raise in stamp costs. For instance; franking, 3rd class post / mailsort, and hybrid mail will all reduce your costs (targeting rather than scattergun marketing will help as well). I'll explain hybrid mail a bit further - as it's the only one your postroom may not know about.  And if you are spending hours and hours printing and sending letters via your postroom, prepare to kick yourself in about 30 seconds (I nearly screamed when I found this out).

Hybrid mail means you don't need a stamp, an envelope, printer toner, or even letterhead.  You have 'the ease of email, with the impact of a letter' as one of the supplier straplines puts it.  You simply create your letter.  One or more pages, black & white or full colour, single or double sided - all your choice still. And then press print (not to your printer though – to the hybrid mail company's printer icon).  That's it !!!!  It'll be delivered to your mailing list in the next few days.  At a huge great discount to you. I've just done a 20 second web search and found you can send a one page letter for 38p.  That's your total cost. Just Google 'hybrid mail' or 'send post from your pc' if you don't believe me or fancy halving your posted direct mail costs. Just to push that cost saving home a bit further, a 2nd class stamp is 50p (I admit franked post is cheaper than that).  But how much on top of that is your letterhead, envelope and printer toner cartridge.  And then you've got to stuff those envelopes (and find someone to do it).  You could estimate nearly £1 per letter if you also allocate your Marketing administrator's salary into the cost of your mailshot.

Letters have a big advantage over email. They are less likely to get lost in the internet somewhere on delivery (it happens), stopped for no good reason by SPAM filters, 'deleted' without even being opened by your recipient, or lost at the bottom of the inbox pile.  And in letters, you can also use CAPITAL LETTERS, images, different textures (even smell), and words like FREE and not get caught in SPAM filters.  You can also use as many images as you want to back up what you are saying – and they won't display as a white box with a red square on half your recipient's PCs, or a whopping great big long URL.

So, if direct mail is a lost art at your place, and you are now thinking about adding letters back into your marketing promotional mix, here are a few goods tips:

1) Personally address and signoff your letter – in blue ink (do you still have a fountain pen?). Can you recall when personalised was really personalised (e.g. Dear James, or best wishes from Simon, putting in that hand written PS, or sticking on a post-it note)
2) Use quality paper, with cream letter and envelope – to make it really stand out on the recipient's desk (and in the palm of their hand)
3) Include a clear call to action – and make it easy to reply
4) Include a PS (and include the call to action again) – they really do get read
5) Follow it up

As for the techniques for writing letter text, it's all fairly similar to email:

1) Don't let images get in the way of what you are saying
2) Make it clear and easy to respond
3) Sell the benefits, not the features

Of course, there will be some readers that haven't moved FROM letters to email yet.  Cor.  They will be losing out more.

I hope this has at least reminded you that letters can contribute to your lead generation activities.